On Tour: Tame Impala and the Flaming Lips

AJ Kiyoizumi/Staff

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The Flaming Lips and Tame Impala took a dip in their “Halloween Blood Bath” last Thursday at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

After faking out the audience with the announcement that “Tame Impala couldn’t come tonight,” the band took to the stage cross-dressed as the Spice Girls while “Wannabe” blasted throughout the venue.

The band’s amusement with the Halloween celebration was endearing in a space where the crowd was just as much a spectacle as the stage. Frontman Kevin Parker, aka Ginger Spice, who noted that Australians don’t celebrate Halloween, said it himself: “You all look fucking crazy. We’ve got two Jesus Christs down here.”

Jesus Christ(s) indeed. Tame Impala added compelling variation to its songs — in one instance chopping up “Mind Mischief” into distinct bits, like a slow-jam clap session, and transitioning into the bridge without singing the first verse. Even when Parker slipped in his delivery of riffs during songs such as “Elephant,” the band made up for it with a funky transition into Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

The band has a penchant for distilling psych-rock into hooky tunes, but it can also mess around with its music. Its sonic meanderings never stray too far from song structures, which made the added flourishes more appreciable. Tame Impala seems to have psychedelia down to a science. After all, psychedelic drugs can be broken down into formulas — why not psych-rock?

As fans would expect, the Flaming Lips put on a show that was full of sensory overload. Red balls were constantly flying at faces. The light show was state-of-the-art. Even my sense of smell was tingling with the aroma of BO and weed. Oh, and there was that part of the show where frontman Wayne Coyne emerged from his tarp-cocoon-womb bedecked in a white dress and a blond wig. Soon thereafter, a Miley Cyrus imposter straddling the shoulders of a bear poured fake blood onto him in a reenactment of classic horror film “Carrie” in the midst of rainbow lights, the silhouette of Gumby and John Carpenter’s “Halloween Theme.” No audience members were massacred — instead, the set list was an onslaught of songs from latest album The Terror.

Following Coyne’s split from his wife, the album features pessimistic commentary on the human condition — a sensibility enhanced by the fact that Coyne retained his blood-soaked appearance throughout the show.

The Flaming Lips played a few of their hits, such as “The W.A.N.D.” and “Race for the Prize” — although the cardboard Pink Robot in the crowd must’ve been relieved by the absence of Yoshimi.

There’s been some talk about how the set was mostly an out-of-place downer in the expectation of drunken Halloween revelry.

Halloween has become a holiday about escaping the fear of death through sanitization and mockery in the form of commodification, partying and terrifying uses of polyester.

Instead of completely conforming to that idea, the Lips performed an interplay between that kind of kitsch in the aforementioned bloody spectacle and an acknowledgment of true horror in the form of the subject matter and mood of selections from The Terror. The striking juxtaposition of the uplifting, albeit death-conscious, singalong of “Do You Realize??,” followed by the grimly industrial closer of “Always There, In Our Hearts,” concentrated these dual aspects of the show.

The ending felt anti-climactic in the face of the show’s sensory overload, leaving the audience with a sense of emptiness and petering out of sensory perceptions, signified by the number of bouncing balloons burst since the show’s beginning. But that sort of ending thematically fits into The Terror.